September 10, 2008

President H.E. Yahya A.A.J. Jammeh
Office of the President
Private Mail Bag
State House
Banjul Republic of the Gambia
Fax: +220 4227 034

Attorney General and Secretary of State for Justice
Marie Saine Firdaus
Department of State for Justice and Attorney General’s Chambers
Marina Parade
Banjul Republic of the Gambia
Fax: +220 4225 352

Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union
H.E. Mr. Jean Ping
P.O. Box 3243
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 11 551 3036

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to protest the sentence handed to freelance journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh.

According to our information, on August 18, 2008, Fatou Jaw Manneh, a contributor to the U.S.-based opposition web site, was found guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” of four counts of sedition and sentenced to four years in prison with hard labor, or a 250,000 Dalasi fine, payable the same day. Manneh was able to raise funds to pay the fine from the Gambia Press Union and her family, thus avoiding imprisonment.

Manneh was arrested on March 28, 2007, by National Intelligence Agency officers on her arrival at the international airport in Banjul from the USA, where she had been living since gaining political asylum in 1994, on April 4, 2007 charges were brought against her on three counts under Gambia’s criminal code: “Intention to commit sedition;” “publication of seditious words;” and “publication of false news intended to cause public fear and alarm to the Gambian public.” Manneh pleaded not guilty and was released on bail. A fourth charge, “uttering seditious words,” was added on June 20, 2007. The charges were based on articles she had written critical of the Gambian president Yahya Jammeh, particulary an interview she gave, first published in now defunct bi-weekly The Independent in June 2004, in which she accused President Jammeh of “tearing our beloved country to shreds.” The trial lasted well over a year, with counsels reportedly often failing to turn up in court and endless wrangling over which court should hear the case.

PEN American Center strongly protests the conviction and four-year sentence imposed on Fatou Jaw Manneh. It is our belief that her criminal conviction is in violation of her right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Gambian Constitution and international human rights treaties to which Gambia is a party, including the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. We therefore respectfully call upon Gambian authorities to acquit Manneh of all charges immediately.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee   

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Dodou Bammy Jagne
Ambassador of the Republic of The Gambia to the U.S.
c/o Embassy of The Gambia
1155 15th Street, NW, Suite 1000,
Washington DC 20005
Fax: (202) 785-1430

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